Memory Problems

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I’m 19-years-old, a sophomore at a small, private college, and I am having memory problems. I don’t have health insurance at all. So, I can not see a therapist or doctor in person. I am having trouble remembering important things. I had a meeting, and I ended up forgetting all about it. I end up remembering when I come in contact with the object or get some kind of reminder, like an email or letter. This was a problem during therapy, cause I could never remember events that happened throughout the week. I recently spent 2 hours searching for a flash drive, because I forgot where I put it. I found it the next day, when I was searching for my notebook.
What could be the cause of my memory problems?

A: Please check with your college dean of students to see if a doctor comes on campus each week. Most colleges at least have a few hours a week of medical help available for their students. It’s at least worth an ask. It’s possible that there is a medical cause for your problem with memory. It’s not likely at your age but it’s always important to rule out medical issues before deciding a problem is all in your head.

On the other hand, there are a multitude of possibilities for memory lapses. You didn’t say whether this was a new problem or one that has been longstanding. If recent, ask yourself if you are under a lot of stress; if you are getting enough sleep; if you are drinking too much coffee or alcohol or using drugs. The solution for each of those issues is very specific. De-stress your life. Get at least 8 hours sleep every night. Stay away from caffeine, alcohol and drugs.

Another possibility is that you don’t really want to go to the meeting, or talk about your life in therapy, or deal with what is on the flash drive. People sometimes develop a “memory problem” when what they are really dealing with is an avoidance problem. If that’s the case, then it’s important to ask yourself why you are avoiding the issues and whether you are willing to deal with the cosequences of blanking out.

It’s also possible that you have a learning disability and that you require what are called “prompts” to remember certain kinds of things. A “prompt” is a reminder. If that is the case, you need to become a habitual list-maker. Keeping lists and a detailed calendar will give you a way to keep tabs on what you are supposed to be doing and what is going on each day. It’s also helpful to leave important things out in plain sight. As you pointed out, seeing an object can open up the whole memory.

I’m afraid this response isn’t very satisfying. I can’t give you a definitive answer because I don’t have enough information. I hope one of the suggestions makes sense to you. If not, I encourage you to find a way to see a mental health professional and to perhaps get a neuropsychological evaluation.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Jun 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Memory Problems. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/06/18/memory-problems/

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